Wyoming Valley residents were glued to their televisions and cellphones over the weekend, awaiting word from family members and friends who were in the path of Hurricane Irma as it moved up Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Zachary Gibbons, a 2015 graduate of Wyoming Area High School, was among approximately 300 of 1,000 students at Ave Maria University, near Fort Myers, who opted to stay on campus Sunday.
When the university suspended classes on Thursday, Gibbons had an opportunity to evacuate to a northern part of the state or to temporarily return to the Wyoming Valley. But he decided to remain on campus, relying on the university administration’s assurances that buildings were secure, food and water would be provided, and that the school would vigorously address any challenges presented by the storm.
The school’s president, Jim Towey, then decided to not only make the campus as safe as possible for students, but for the surrounding community. In a campus-wide email, Towey said the local sheriff’s office was setting up a command post on campus.
Zachary Gibbons’ mother, Geri, said she has “total confidence in the security of the area and the school’s administration.”
“Nevertheless, there have been several scary moments as I watch the progress of the storm,” said Geri, a resident of West Wyoming. “I look forward to the passage of the storm so that my son can get back to his academic life.”
As Saturday dawned and it became evident the storm was on its way, the Student Union and Field House became an emergency shelter for residents from Immokalee, a nearby town with many financially challenged residents.
Most of the students who remained on campus became involved in the efforts to make it safe, installing hurricane shutters and assisting with the implementation of last-minute emergency safety measures.
In nearby Venice, Frank and Cheryl Butry — former residents of Bear Creek Township — also chose to remain at their home in Florida, having “weatherized” it as much as possible.
Cheryl Butry, administrator of a 10-patient rehab building in Sarasota, said she remained in Florida because of her duty to keep the facility’s residents safe.
“I am working in a facility with great staff that are pulling together in a well-secured building,” she said.
The Butrys moved to Florida with their son, Brandon, last year from Bear Creek Township to be near family and to take advantage of the the warm weather and scenic surroundings.
Cheryl said family members now consider Florida “home” and are thinking about their neighbors and the nearby community.
Many of those neighbors live closer to the beach than the Butrys do and are concerned, not only with the immediate effects of Irma, but with the storm surge to follow.
The Butrys, however, are inland and said they believe their home is out of the storm-surge flood zone.
Meanwhile, as the hurricane made its way through Florida, residents of other states on the East Coast remained anxious.
Kelly Fanning, originally from Wyoming borough and now living in Bluffton, S.C., has her bags packed in case the storm or its surge affect her family.
Fanning, whose husband, Colin, is a firefighter on Hilton Head Island, has three children under age 5 and has left the area before with her family to keep them safe during weather events.